New Delhi, Dec. 20: A vaccine against a virus that causes cervical cancer will be brought to India through a partnership between global pharmaceutical giant Merck and the Indian Council of Medical Research, officials said today.
The ICMR signed an agreement to collaborate and study in India Merck’s vaccine against strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV) that is said to be the cause of cervical cancer in women.
The agreement caps months of negotiations by the ICMR with Merck and other HPV vaccine makers, seeking assurances that the vaccine becomes available to the poor.
Merck’s managing director Leonard Tauro said the company would offer the vaccine at an “affordable price” for use in the public health system.
The officials said it was too early now to say what the vaccine would cost either here or in foreign markets.
The studies to be conducted in India over the next two years will assess the use of the vaccine in the Indian population.
Earlier this month, Merck had filed an application with the US Food and Drug Administration for marketing the product there.
“The exact number of women who will receive the vaccine, the centres that will be involved in the study, and the design of the study are yet to be finalised,” Dr Nirmal Ganguly, the director-general of the ICMR said.
He said it might become available for use “within the next two years”.
Public health experts estimate that about 70,000 women die of cervical cancer in India each year. Research over the past two decades has established that HPV ' a sexually transmitted virus ' can trigger changes in cervical cells leading to cancer. Clinical trials of this HPV vaccine in several countries outside India have shown that it is “100 per cent” effective in preventing infection by HPV.
“I’ve never ever seen a vaccine result as good as this,” Ganguly said.
The Merck vaccine is designed to protect against four types of HPV ' types 16 and 18, which account for an estimated 70 per cent of cervical cancer cases, and types 6 and 11 which account for nearly 90 per cent of genital warts.
ICMR officials said the study protocols in India might be different from other countries. They believe that it would be difficult to subject teenaged girls and unmarried women in India to periodic vaginal examinations, a requirement to study the effect of the vaccine.
“One possibility is to offer this to young married women,” said a senior ICMR scientist.